300

300th post. 34 months of blogging. Woo, and, I might add, hoo.

A truly amazing likeness.

But enough about me.

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Is Adolescence Even Real?

At First Thoughts, we contemplate the nature of adolescence.

A couple thoughts, then I need to earn a living:

– When we think of the great wave of pioneers that pushed ever westward, accepting the dangers and challenges of clearing land, building a house, running a farm and being totally responsible for themselves and their families, it’s good to remember that a good portion of those people would now be classified as adolescents. And need a permission slip to step off campus.

– Alexander the Great had assumed control of a nation and army, suppressed rebellion among the allies, and prepared an army for the invasion of Persia – before he was 20.

– Julius Caesar organized a strike force to retaliate against a bunch of pirates who had kidnapped him and held him for ransom, and had the pirates hanged – when he was 15.

– David Farragut fought in his first battle at sea against three British ships off South America. During this battle, he was drenched in the blood of fallen shipmate, whose corpse knocked him down the ladder into the hold. After the battle, he was put in command of one of the captured British ships, which he ably piloted back to America.  He was 12.

And so on. More mundanely, farm kids – at least prior to the advent of industrial ‘fencepost to fencepost’ farming – were routinely given serious, productive responsibilities when still single digits years old.

We’ve killed all this. In its place, we have 35 year old graduate students who can barely wipe their own noses.

More Fun with Science! Headlines

Study: Comet Did Not Wipe Out Prehistoric Humans in North America

It seems we can add ‘comet’ to the the all but infinite list of things that didn’t wipe out prehistoric humans in North America. But the money quote:

“The theory has reached zombie status. Whenever we are able to show flaws and think it is dead, it reappears with new, equally unsatisfactory, arguments. Hopefully new versions of the theory will be more carefully examined before they are published.”

It’s a rare delight when ‘zombie’ and ‘apocalypse’ appear as part of pure Science! writing. BTW: how can we be really sure zombies didn’t wipe ’em out? Huh? Answer me that one, Poindexter!

Oh, and check out the picture accompanying the article:

What exactly is this supposed to be? A comet not causing the extinction of prehistoric North Americans? Viewed against the backdrop of an LSD flashback? I wish they’d have just gone all John C Wright on it, and used a picture of Cat Woman – it would have made as much sense.

And, in the ‘I’m just amusing myself, here’ category:

Martian craters could hold fossilized web of water, study says

It would be wrong to wonder how one fossilizes water, right? And to wonder what else Martian craters could hold – the list is endless!

And in the ‘needs no comment’ division:

U.S. Officials Unhappy Iran Put a Monkey Into Space

Turns out Earth isn’t so habitable after all

<insert gratuitous ‘Oakland’ snipe here>

More from Dr. Boli – Is Your Child Reading?

This about sums it up:

is-your-child-reading

If only he were kidding. From John Taylor Gatto:

At the start of WWII millions of men showed up at registration offices to take low-level academic tests before being inducted.1 The years of maximum mobilization were 1942 to1944; the fighting force had been mostly schooled in the 1930s, both those inducted and those turned away. Of the 18 million men were tested, 17,280,000 of them were judged to have the minimum competence in reading required to be a soldier, a 96 percent literacy rate. Although this was a 2 percent fall-off from the 98 percent rate among voluntary military applicants ten years earlier, the dip was so small it didn’t worry anybody.

WWII was over in 1945. Six years later another war began in Korea. Several million men were tested for military service but this time 600,000 were rejected. Literacy in the draft pool had dropped to 81 percent, even though all that was needed to classify a soldier as literate was fourth- grade reading proficiency. In the few short years from the beginning of WWII to Korea, a terrifying problem of adult illiteracy had appeared. The Korean War group received most of its schooling in the 1940s, and it had more years in school with more professionally trained personnel and more scientifically selected textbooks than the WWII men, yet it could not read, write, count, speak, or think as well as the earlier, less-schooled contingent.

A third American war began in the mid-1960s. By its end in 1973 the number of men found noninductible by reason of inability to read safety instructions, interpret road signs, decipher orders, and so on—in other words, the number found illiterate—had reached 27 percent of the total pool. Vietnam-era young men had been schooled in the 1950s and the 1960s—much better schooled than either of the two earlier groups—but the 4 percent illiteracy of 1941 which had transmuted into the 19 percent illiteracy of 1952 had now had grown into the 27 percent illiteracy of 1970. Not only had the fraction of competent readers dropped to 73 percent but a substantial chunk of even those were only barely adequate; they could not keep abreast of developments by reading a newspaper, they could not read for pleasure, they could not sustain a thought or an argument, they could not write well enough to manage their own affairs without assistance.

In 1882, fifth graders read these authors in their Appleton School Reader: William Shakespeare, Henry Thoreau, George Washington, Sir Walter Scott, Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Bunyan, Daniel Webster, Samuel Johnson, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others like them. In 1995, a student teacher of fifth graders in Minneapolis wrote to the local newspaper, “I was told children are not to be expected to spell the following words correctly: back, big, call, came, can, day, did, dog, down, get, good, have, he, home, if, in, is, it, like, little, man, morning, mother, my, night, off, out, over, people, play, ran, said, saw, she, some, soon, their, them, there, time, two, too, up, us, very, water, we, went, where, when, will, would, etc. Is this nuts?”

Someone St. Thomas might have considered an educated man is a dangerous fellow – he thinks for himself; what Fichte, the founder of modern Prussian schooling, considered an educated man is one incapable of thinking what his betters don’t want him to think. America’s public schools were built by people who studied at the feet of Fichte’s Prussian disciples – this is a fairly well known historical fact. Read the bios of the leading American academics in the 2nd half of the 19th century. Prussian schools were the first to offer PhDs – it became de rigueur for Americans with academic aspirations to pilgrimage to Prussia. Then, the holders of the PhD became the gate keepers to all jobs in academia – and all jobs in the newly established education bureaucracies that were the life work of Horace Mann and his followers.

It’s an interesting story – all over America, farmers would vote down all efforts to impose ‘scientific’ ‘consolidated’ schools: why spend more to have strangers educate your sons and daughters somewhere you can’t keep an eye on them? Farmers liked their one room schools just fine – and those schools produced better graduates by just about any measure.

So, in the ignoble history of politics, the education crowd back-doored the establishment of education departments through the legislature – just a department to make sure the noble citizens of Iowa or Indiana were getting properly schooled. The sole purpose of those departments early on was to undermine the one-room schools. Only once those schools were eliminated – and demographics and the Great Depression had largely eliminated them by the end of WWII – was it possible to implement the real goals outlined above.

The Celebrated Dr. Boli’s History of the World – the Fall of Rome

CHAPTER 11.—THE ROMAN EMPIRE DECLINES AND FALLS FOR 1500 YEARS STRAIGHT. It’s a must read. In the words of a dear friend: Don’t think of it as fun, think of it as a duty, imposed by an awesome burden of guilt.

Among many brilliant observations:

After a brief experiment with wise emperors, including Marcus Aurelius, who spent most of his reign polishing aphorisms, the empire entered a period known to historians as the Age of the Revolving Door, when new emperors entered the palace at noon, and their mangled corpses were tossed out the door by tea time. The lack of stability at the top seeped through even into the lower levels of the Roman bureaucracy, and the treasury was deplete by the lavish donatives each fresh emperor distributed to buy the loyalty of the soldiers. The soldiers, being no fools, quickly learned that a high turnover rate meant high profits, and made sure to keep the door revolving.

Go, now, and read the rest. Stuff like this makes hope spring up anew in my heart, until the next headline smashes it to despair. My heart: a giant Whack-a-Mole game of hope.

Maps & Education

In a moment of insanity, purchased this:

It’s huge, on a spring roller in a galvanized metal frame.  After reading Tarn’s biography of Alexander the Great, I really wanted a map of Alexander’s empire, as I’m not familiar with the geography of that area in any detail. So, cruising around the net, looking for a nice big map, something to hang on the wall, for not too much. But found this on eBay, a classic set of classroom maps of the ancient (and not so ancient) world – and my wife didn’t even try to talk me out of it. It’s way cool. Now I need to build a rack for it – will report back.

Many companies nowadays supply large classroom maps. Cram and Nystrom had been around for over a hundred years – mine is a Nystrom set (they’re still in business); Cram, which used to make hecka cool canvas maps, went out of business recently. With digital technology, the old school approach requiring cartographers, draftsmen and fancy printing equipment seems to be over. Judging from the websites, these modern companies seem pretty low budget – not surprising, as it would likely take a minimal investment in a wide format printer, some digital files and a website to get into the business.

If the apocalyptic reports on geographical and historical ignorance are to be believed (and my experience suggests they should), almost nobody nowadays knows much of anything about those subjects. So, who is keeping these companies in business? If the school, are these maps ever dragged out and taught to?

There’s a little bit of curious history here. In One Room Schools of the Middle West, a book I’ve refered to before here, Dr. Fuller mentions in passing that one of the strategies used by the educators behind the ‘scientific’ graded classroom schools in their efforts to supplant the one-room rural schools was to brag on the equipment: consolidated schools had the latest maps and globes! One-room schools tended not to have the latest and greatest. So, I wonder how much of the classroom map industry sprang from supplying the latest and greatest to the new centrally controlled schools and on one-room schools trying to keep up, and how much from a real push to teach this stuff?

I wonder this because actually learning what the maps have to teach doesn’t seem to be part of the drill, at least not for the last 40-50 years. Do people older than me – say, in their 60s – know all this stuff from their time in grade school and high school going over lessons using those maps? My personal experience – I started school in 1963, and, over the next 13 years I don’t recall ever even seeing anything other than current American and world maps in a classroom, and lessons were not based on them. Any geography I got was from the Maps in the huge Webster’s we had when I was a kid.

And history is even worse. If the teachers had ever pulled down a big map of, say, the Roman Empire and taught from it, I’d remember – I have always loved that kind of stuff.

One theory I’ve long entertained, which I admit is based on little hard evidence, is that once professional educators achieved their express goal of putting the one-room schools out of business (circa 1945), and the last significant generation of people educated in one-room schools had started to died off (by the 1960s and 70s), much of the motivation behind teaching anything at all in school was removed. When a bunch of hicks educated by amateurs consistently outperformed the scientifically educated products of the consolidated schools – even according to tests concocted by the professional educators – the classroom schools had to try to keep up. This was the case from the late 19th century up until the Great Depression. Once the locally controlled and independent one room schools were eliminated, and those educated in them dwindled, not so much. The schools could then concentrate on *their* goal: producing a dumbed-down and easily managed population.

What part could knowing some history or geography (or math or science) play in achieving that goal? Whatever the cause, the result is clear: hardly anyone knows any of that stuff, and, if they do, they didn’t learn it in a traditional public school.

Percy on Sagan

The Curt Jester pointed to the quotation from Walker Percy below, via the Deeps of Time blog:

“Yet one is not offended by Sagan. There is too little malice and too much ignorance. It is enough to take pleasure in the pleasant style, the knack for popularizing science, and the beautiful pictures of Saturn and the Ring Nebula.

Indeed, more often than not, I found myself on Sagan’s side, especially in his admiration for science and the scientific method, which is what he says it is — a noble, elegant, and self-correcting method of attaining a kind of truth — and when he attacks the current superstitions, astrology, UFO’s, parapsychology, and such, which seem to engage the Western mind now more than ever — more perhaps than either science or Christianity.

What is to be deplored is not Sagan’s sophomoric scientism — which I think better than its counterpart, a sophomoric theism which attributes the wonders of the Cosmos to a God who created it like a child with a cookie cutter — no, what is deplorable is that these serious issues involving God and the nature of man should be co-opted by the present disputants, a popularizer like Sagan and fundamentalists who believe God created the world six-thousand years ago. It’s enough to give both science and Christianity a bad name.

Really, it is a case of an ancient and still honorable argument going to pot. Even arguments in a college dormitory are, or were, conducted at a higher level.

It is for this very reason that we can enjoy Cosmos so much, for the frivolity of Sagan’s vulgar scientism and for the reason that science is, as Sagan says, self-correcting.”

Not surprising, Percy is way nicer than I am. I’m seeing plenty of malice, and, while I do enjoy “the beautiful pictures of Saturn and the Ring Nebula”, it doesn’t make up for the smarmy, snide sniping, nor the cheer leading for Science! even at the expense of the truth. But hey, Percy died before pictures like these were available – today, you can get an even better beauty-rush without having to tolerate Carl.  More important, he manages to look on human frailty with a certain affection that I can only aspire to.

Even more important, Percy may not have lived long enough (he died in 1990) for the full (let us call it) “Eisenhower Effect” to kick in – of the government paying the scientific piper and so calling the tune. Science! only discovers stuff that backs the agenda of government that funds it. Sagan, perhaps (I say, in an effort toward Percian broadmindedness) didn’t realize that, once he started using Science! to promote his agendas (nuclear disarmament, SETI), the government would do the same – in fact, co-op his efforts for its goals – to expand its size and control as much as possible. Science may be self-correcting, but Science! is not. Or, worse, Science! only self-corrects when the politics underlying it self-correct – and those times tend to be very interesting and unpleasant.

Thought I had read that book (Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos) but I must not have – I’d remember that quote for sure. Oh, well, add it to the reading list.